The Story So Far

ATA was created in 2006 for the Rational Response Squad, famous for the Blasphemy Challenge and their Nightline debate with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. In 2009 we archived the original site and moved to a new platform, which is where we are today.

I’m here to answer any questions or challenges you might have for atheists in general, along with site founder Jake. We’ve been around long enough already that it’s worth checking whether your question has already been answered, but we’re happy to tread old ground for new readers.

Welcome to Ask the Atheist. Ask away.

Edit: A couple of things if you’re new. Comments are fully moderated and your first post must be approved, so give it time to appear. If a new contribution is reliant enough on an existing answer, especially a recent one, it will go under that answer as a comment. It’s no judgement on you or your writing, we just like to keep discussions in one piece.


One NDE Question Left Over

Question from Kamil (sent before I answered his previous one):
Hello there, a few weeks ago I asked about NDEs with many faces aka Jesus. I just wanted to give you only a few of about the 160-200 accounts I have found online of NDE meetings with Jesus, they are all pretty consistent, and I wanted to see if these convince you.

Here are a few descriptions of meeting him:

“Someone was waiting for me where the path ended. I knew it was Jesus. He was tall and strong, with long dark hair and a wonderful tender smile. His eyes were unforgettable, immense, dark, so loving and full of wisdom… He was wearing a long white tunic, and sandals. He was there all by himself and smiling, just waiting for ME. He welcomed me. He didn’t say a word, I didn’t either, but we were communicating without talking.”

” I felt someone pick me up in their arms and I was surrounded by light. I looked in the smiling face of a man, who said his name was Jesus. He told me not to be frightened; he was here to take me back. He had shoulder length brown hair and dark brown eyes. He was wearing leather sandals on his feet with straps that went between his toes and tied around his ankles. He had on a long white gown with long gig sleeves, with a long light blue tunic over it. There was a gold color rope tied around his waist. His voice was very soft and kind, almost musical, and I felt a feeling of pure love, complete safety and trust.”

” I felt a presence in there and tried to clarify whom it was. I could not see a face but felt the presence of Jesus on a throne. I said ‘who are you?’ He replied ‘I am your Lord Jesus’ and I fell to my knees. Jesus said ‘Don’t be afraid, I love you’. I do not have the words to express the feeling of his presence. He had unconditional love towards me and said ‘what do you think of your life so far?’ I had a strong sense I had not completed what I need to learn as a human being. Jesus said ’You may stay with me or return to being a human being”

” Jesus Christ was seated next to God. The throne room was pure white. Then I stood there in absolute awe at the beauty of Jesus. Jesus was wearing a white robe with a purple sash and had flames in his eyes. His golden crown had many bright jewels in it. The jewels were purple, green, and red. I looked back at Jesus and his sash. Then the sash turned red. I was looking into His eyes. I saw forever in them: He was so beautiful.”

“I only had a clear sight of a man that stood to the far right of me. I knew immediately that this man was Jesus. I never saw him before, but I knew that he was the master and my lord. I understood that he knew every fine detail about me. Jesus wore a white roman like cloak from his neck to his feet with long arm sleeves that were very loose. A red loose ban of clothing stretched from his left shoulder across the chest to his right waist. He had long brown curly hair that dangled to his shoulder length. Everything happened so fast that I didn’t see his wounds in his hands, face, nor see the color of his eyes.”

“Our conversation differed from a typical face-to-face speech. Somehow, I was able to communicate with the choice by mouth or the mind. Jesus spoke to me with his lips and spread his arms and said, “It is not time for you to die yet.”

“I had the pleasure of having a discussion with Jesus. I knew it was him and that I can never deny. I also received a wonderful hug from him. I felt his body with my spirit and there are times, especially when I do have occasional bouts of depression, I can still feel his physical body with my fingertips and I know he was real and that what he brought to the world was wonderful.”

” He was more beautiful outside. This was like the Jesus images I saw in the Bible. His face was shining and he was smiling. His eyes were so deep. I felt that he could sent me lights of love. I wished to stay like that forever. It was the most amazing experience in my whole life! It was like he was taking me to heaven with him and I was happy to follow him. ”

“There was Jesus standing there about one hundred feet tall, with his right arm extended. He was glowing, with long brown hair, copper skin, and a long white robe.”

“Next to me on my right side was a presence. They were similar to the ‘light beings’ I had seen when I was three years old. But this time, the presence turned into a likeness of Jesus. He stood next to me and looked in my eyes. Then he touched/rubbed my right cheek. I immediately was able to breath and was free of pain and fear.”

“Then, Jesus walked up to me. He was tall and so beautiful! His hair was dark and wavy, and very long down to his waist. His skin was dark and his eyes were a warm, liquid-brown. Jesus had a smile that melted my heart. He told me that He loved me, that He had walked beside me every day of my life. He told me that He had never left my side and never would leave my side, not ever.”

“”I saw a pinpoint of light in the distance. As I approached it, I noticed the figure of a man standing in it, with the light radiating all around him. As I got closer the light became brilliant – brilliant beyond any description, far more brilliant than the sun. I saw that the light immediately around him was golden, as if his whole body had a golden halo around it, and I could see that the golden halo burst out from around him and spread into a brilliant, magnificent whiteness that extended out for some distance. I felt his light blending into mine. And as our lights merged, I felt as if I had stepped into his countenance, and I felt an utter explosion of love. It was the most unconditional love I have ever felt, and as I saw his arms open to receive me I went to him and received his complete embrace. There was no questioning who he was. I knew that he was my Savior, and friend, and God. He was Jesus Christ, who had always loved me, even when I thought he hated me.”

There are many more accounts like this all over the internet, I counted about 160 accounts I could find. They just tend to be so deep. Many describe Jesus as having dark hair, while his pictures in the USA make him look almost blond, so the American paintings don’t usually mesh with the description of him.
These experiences like I said seem so deep, the people have personal conversations with Jesus, and they know its him, there are not any NDEs I can find from other faiths where people have such deep experiences with other deities. Do these accounts not mean anything to you???
Even Kreps who studies Muslim NDEs says other faith NDEs seem much more sketchy than the Christian ones, the Christian ones are so vast and detailed.

Answer by SmartLX:
Normally I try to take every question at face value, but it’s especially interesting to come back to this subject after you finally got down to your own motivations in your previous post. You’re still convinced by all this after we’ve covered all the probable reasons why, simply because that is how it strikes your brain – or did once, before you had even learned about the extent of this, and now you’re collecting this stuff to shore it up.

The more or less consistent depictions of Jesus in these quotes may be cherry-picked specifically in order to be consistent, firstly. Even if they are properly representative, though, the culturally accepted image of Jesus has been in place since the 6th century and it’s there in the subconscious of every Christian. What they expect to see is either what they conjure in their mind’s eye or what they gradually nudge the memory towards after the fact.

The emotional impact or “deep”-ness of these experiences is also cherry-picked just by the nature of the fact that they were documented. People who saw Jesus in a much less affecting context in a dream or other state of unconsciousness might not bother to tell people. But again, having got the idea that they saw Jesus triggers subsequent emotions that can be projected backwards into the experience. One’s wedding day is often remembered as uniformly blissful despite a large proportion of it actually being spent adjusting clothes and wrangling family members, because of its significance to one’s life.

Finally (for now, though I think comments will add to the counterpoints), if any of these stories are made up completely, of course Jesus is exactly as people expect him to look, and of course each is a profound spiritual experience. Even the stories that are based on an unexplained vision and embellished later will be shaped in one’s head unerringly towards the expected experience, not away.

So yes, the accounts do mean something to me. They are indicative of a great many social, psychological and memetic phenomena whether or not they are true. But they are very unlikely to mean that apparently the most common type of NDE is genuinely supernatural. You probably knew I’d say that at the end, but maybe just read it a couple of times to let yourself get past some of the emotion and see it through my eyes. It’s a good exercise, according to Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

NDEs: One Man’s Last Bastion of Belief

Question from Kamil:
Is it worth it to believe in religion if the only reason I have to believe is NDEs? I mean, I know you might say no one can tell me what to believe, and I can’t choose what to believe, but the thing is, the nearest NDE study coming out that is supposed to be really large isn’t coming out until probably 2021, which is a long time.

The ONLY thing that compels me, as obvious from my posts, to believe is the NDEs, I see many of hell, many of Jesus, and I fear rejecting fully, in case I do end up getting punished for it. However, if I knew for a 100% fact NDEs were not really the soul leaving the body, I would have absolutely no reason at all to believe, nothing else is compelling at all, or makes any sense. The religious texts don’t make sense, filled with inconsistencies, and contradictions. The idea of “something can’t come from nothing” is not compelling, because then where did God come from? If God can always exist, then why can’t a few particles or even the smallest amount of energy exist? Even if that were debunked, it still wouldn’t mean a God exists. The story of Jesus at surface level seems like a fabrication, or at least part of it.

I believe a man named Jesus existed, and walked on earth, and gave advice/help to people. However, I find it hard to believe that he performed real miracles (maybe he was a good magician), that he came from a virgin birth, or that he really rose from the dead. However, then I am somewhat afraid to question that out of fear. I also find religion somewhat annoying, so when I first started questioning things, I was a tad rebellious. I am afraid that this may partially be contributing to my view to “want” to dump religion, sadly. I know that is biased, and that is also why I am not sure fully where I stand. However, honestly, it is probably 70% the fact that I don’t believe most of it, 10% of me is somewhat stubborn and wants to forget religion, and 20% is just this fear of what if, and in that it is the NDEs that make me uneasy of dropping it.

Should I really wait until 2021 before I can (potentially depending on the results) sincerely call myself an atheist, or should I take everyone else’s word and say “NDEs are just in the brain” and reject it? I know I keep asking this, but it really does seem that NDEs prove Jesus over other deities, I know I live in a Christian part of the world, and maybe other NDEs haven’t been recorded, or people just don’t post them. People from other faiths just say NDEs are not real, but that’s not tackling the issue. If NDEs are hallucinations which are culturally based, then a Muslim should report seeing Muhammad, as their brain would pull from their knowledge of religion. However, getting beside the point, what should I do? Should I wait for 2021 or should I not?

Answer by SmartLX:
After all the arguments for the supernatural or divine nature of near death experiences presented by you, a few other determined repeat contributors and a host of one-offs, the case for this still appears to be very poor. Therefore I wouldn’t judge NDEs to be a worthy reason to believe in gods and an afterlife. That’s not really how it works though; you didn’t decide to believe in them for good reasons or otherwise, you were convinced by what you had read and all our exchanges have been attempts to rationalise this after the fact.

You reject major Christian doctrine and the divinity of Jesus on an intellectual level, and yet you fear to deny Jesus out loud. This nakedly baseless fear is part a seldom discussed but very common phenomenon which I’ve named faithdrawal. Faith is maintained far more by emotion than by intellect, so this is the element of it that dies hardest. Fortunately, without constant reinforcement it fades inexorably.

I may have confused your past writings with those of others, but regardless there are discussions here of all the components of your summary argument for Christian NDEs. You do not understand why Christian NDE claims are so common and other types are almost non-existent if the experiences aren’t really caused by Yahweh and Jesus, but this is your inner argument from ignorance and the core fallacy you ignore through cognitive dissonance. Explanations have been presented, such as the Muslim doctrine that NDEs of Muhammad don’t happen which keeps Muslims from reporting theirs, and the runaway success of the Christian NDE meme in our culture which invites mistaken claims and outright lies, so there is no argument from elimination to be made, but since the alternatives don’t resonate with you the completely undemonstrated supernatural explanation still seems likely to you.

Don’t wait until 2021, because nothing will change as a result of that study. If it supports NDEs as an almost uniquely Christian phenomenon, you will allow it to renew your latent faith and ignore other explanations. If it does not, you will focus on any unanswered questions, of which there will be many. Think through this now and get it over with.

Focus on this, if you will: if there is no God and no afterlife, there is no punishment waiting after death, and if you are confident that religion is wrong then you have nothing to fear. If you did not want or need NDEs to be genuine, if you thought about them through my eyes or those of another indifferent person you’ve discussed them with, how likely would they look? How much of all this is just you holding on for literally no good reason that anyone else can see?

Spoiler: the first time you really ponder this, whether now or later, you will get angry. Let it happen, go think about something else, and come back to it, multiple times if you must. Accept that there are things about your own way of thinking that you do not understand, and take it slow.

A Universe With A Mission?

Question from The Devil’s Advocate:
This question is going to be different. That is to say, I’m inclined to think that it should be interpreted and processed in a somewhat different manner than most of the emails you receive. It’s about what might be, rather than what is. In my experience, a significant minority, if not the majority, of atheists tend to take the position that there’s no point in exploring a possibility unless there’s evidence in support of that possibility. Most of the time, that makes a lot of sense. Are reptilian fairies from the seventh dimension kidnapping homeless people and prodding them with rectal probes? Well, if there’s no scientifically credible empirical evidence in support of the possibilities, why even pursue that possibility?

However, there are conceptual frameworks in which what might be can be almost as illuminating as what is. Science fiction literature is all about what MIGHT be, as opposed to what is or what will be. Exploring what MIGHT be (with the rigor and scientific literacy of someone like Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke) can be extremely illuminating.

I’m going to make this as brief as possible on the assumption that you’re smart enough to appreciate the full implications of the possibilities that I’m alluding to here.

Consider the power of technology. Consider the exponential rate at which that power has grown over the course of only a few generations. If we don’t kill ourselves off as a result of our animalistic instincts, consider the power that human technology will wield a thousand years from now. Imagine a civilization that has been fully technological, as we presently are, for a hundred thousand years. Or a million years. Can you grasp that intuitively? The scale at least? The mind-numbing scale?

Okay. Here’s the deal. It appears to me that there are no forces in the known universe even remotely as potentially powerful as technology (applied science). What are the most powerful natural forces we know of? A supernova? The mega black holes at the center of most galaxies? I don’t know if you’re a futurist or a science fiction fan, but if you are, you KNOW that a supernova or a mega black hole doesn’t even BEGIN to compare to the technological power that a civilization ten thousand years more technologically advanced than us could conceivably wield. So, here’s the paradigm that I hope to communicate…

Given the mind-numbing, breathtaking power of advanced technology… and by that I don’t mean Star Wars or Star Trek because mainstream science fiction only depicts technologies a hair’s breath more advanced than our own, for utterly pragmatic reasons. (If a mainstream science fiction film were to depict a technology ten thousand years more advanced than our own it, watching it would be like having an acid trip– nothing in it would be at all comprehensible– therefore there’s no financial motivation to produce such a film. The technologies in Star Wars and Star Trek are JUST BARELY more advanced than our own, by necessity.)

Given the mind-numbing, breathtaking power of advanced technology… and the fact that nothing that we currently know about anywhere in the multiverse can even begin to compare with that potential power— is it so outrageous to think that LIFE (which is the source of such technology) could possibly be an even bigger influence in the configuration of the cosmos as gravity? What if– and mind you, this isn’t random speculation– this is in the broader context of the mind-numbing potential power to which I am referring– what if LIFE (both biological and silicon-based) is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, forces defining the form that the multiverse takes?

That could very well include universes designed and created for a particular purpose (or something not completely unlike “purpose”) by intelligent entities. The particular (unexpected and rather surprising) delicately balanced configuration of natural laws in our own universe, which seems unexpectedly predisposed towards allowing for the evolution of life– could, in principle, be explained by such forces.

There is, to be sure, some speculation embedded in the above. But the mind-numbing potential power of technology, which seems to vastly exceed all other known forces in potential, isn’t speculation. That’s concrete, and unavoidable. Is there anything that we know of in the universe/multiverse at the moment that could conceivably compete with a technology 500, 000 years more advanced than our own? If not, wouldn’t that imply a possibility that entire universes might be purposefully and intentionally designed and created for a purpose?

Note, what I’m eluding to here is the empirical potential POWER of applied science, relative to the potential power of other, puny, natural forces like supernova explosions. That’s the empirical reality to which I’m referring. Not blind speculation– but that potential power, and how much greater it is than any other natural power we know of.

My Question: What do you think about the possibility, implied above, that we might live in a universe– or rather a multiverse– in which universes are created intentionally for a particular purpose or in a search for existential meaning? And, do you appreciate the EMPIRICAL reality of this paradigm? The EMPIRICAL foundational reality that inspires the speculation?

Answer by SmartLX:
Yes, there is a possibility that we are in a universe that was created for a purpose. Not really with you on the rest of this.

I’m a huge sci-fi fan, but the power of technology in science fiction is speculation by definition and very little about it is empirical. There are any number of potential roadblocks to the mind-boggling progress you describe. The seemingly most likely two are:
1. Some of the critical technologies common to futuristic stories, like faster-than-light travel, may simply be impossible to make practical according to the laws of physics.
2. Due to social and psychological factors, a civilisation may be incapable of maintaining a discipline of scientific advancement long enough (or even surviving long enough) to reach speculated levels. We may be fated to destroy ourselves with present-day technology, or to repeat a cycle of dark ages and renaissances.

Even if life and technology are as unthinkably powerful as sci-fi makes them look, just the possibility of creating a universe does not mean every universe is created. Life may have to evolve and develop technology at least once in a natural universe, and this may be it. Or there may only be one universe, or all universes exist concurrently, so that there was no “before” for a creator to exist in. Or the universe may not have begun to exist at all, if the Big Bang was merely a transitional event.

The more you imagine, just as sci-fi authors do, the more possible explanations you come up with, and the less likely any given scenario seems with the sole supporting argument that it seems plausible.

On Purpose, After the Fact (my bad)

Question from Yui:
Hello, this topic I searched but seem to find no direct answer.

What is the purpose/meaning of life for a person who the supreme law is reason? How can we rationally explain life as a human species? If we can, what is our objective purpose as a whole?

Answer by SmartLX:
I just covered purpose yesterday here, but you did write this two days ago. Do check the previous answer, but here I’ll apply my perspective to the specifics of your wording.

To someone who values reason and doesn’t think an intelligent supreme being handed out any laws governing human behaviour, a human being is a product of what has happened before rather than a means to any predetermined end. Without a prescribed purpose one is free to choose one’s own, and that can vary greatly depending on the person but many come out roughly the same based on our shared human desires and empathy for other humans. That about covers it. If you don’t like that a prime universal goal like “please your god” is not replaced with something similarly monolithic, consider that your preferences for the nature of reality do not affect reality itself beyond your own actions.

The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled

Question from Jared:
First of all I want to apologize if this has been asked before. Unless it’s just my browser, there doesn’t seem to be a search function at the top right of the page as mentioned. (I didn’t see a “devil” or “Satan” tag so I guess it might not have been asked.)

Someone I know has an argument that goes as follows (more or less): “The devil’s ultimate goal is to get people to believe that he and God don’t exist and if you are an atheist, you’re playing into his trap”. How can you rationally respond to that?

Answer by SmartLX:
This is not an argument for God, it is an assertion. Specifically it’s an attempted rationalisation of the very existence of atheism in a universe with an all-powerful god who wants everyone to believe in it and is nevertheless failing to achieve this. The rational response to it is to call it out as an assertion and ask for evidence, not only of the existence of God and the devil but of the devil’s specific intentions. How does your acquaintance know any of this?

The alternative, which you might or might not bring up, is that the ultimate goal of churches is to get people to believe that God and the devil do exist, because new believers bring publicity, money and social and political clout, and if you’re a Christian you’re playing into their trap.

This had not been asked before, but there’s at least some material on Satan here, this piece for example. The search function should appear as a grey magnifying glass in the top right hand corner. If you see it, give it a click. The tags in the tag cloud are not the only ones in use, just the most common ones. If all else fails, Google “ask the atheist” in quotes, and outside the quotes put in your keywords. That’s what I do to find my own stuff sometimes.


Question from Kamil:
I have done more research on Jesus NDEs, and found that while he does come up more than other deities from other faiths ex: Muhammad, that it may make some sense. I mean, Christians view Jesus on the same playing field as God, and they feel like they have a relationship with him. That may be why whenever they see a light in their NDEs they assume it is Jesus. Muslims do not feel like they have this kind of relationship with Muhammad, and they don’t worship him. Also there are no pictures of Muhammad, so during an NDE, their brains would be less likely to come up with seeing Muhammad potentially.

However, this leaves me with one question: what about the NDEs where Christians see Jesus, but he doesn’t look exactly like depicted in the paintings. Many report seeing him with dark hair, and some even say olive skin. Different people say he has different physical characteristics, and NDErs argue that he appears to each person differently so that they can understand who he is and so that their souls can learn in the best possible way. So person A may imagine Jesus as being tanned with black hair and brown eyes while person B may imagine him having fair skin with blue eyes, so he will manifest in those images for each person. My question is, does this mean that since he shows up to some people in ways that don’t reflect cultural imagery that NDEs with him are likely to be genuine?

And even though I feel Muslims would be less quick to jump to the idea that seeing a light or having a good “familiar” feeling is the result of Muhammad, it still seems Christian NDEs are much deeper with more life lessons and reinforcement of Jesus than Muslims are of their cultural beliefs. Does this prove Christianity?

Answer by SmartLX:
Kamil, did you start with the final sentence, “Does this prove Christianity?” and work backwards? Because if you read your question from the start up to that point, there is nothing approaching a proof there even if everything you write were true.

Jesus as described in the Gospels was one person, with one physical appearance. Shapeshifting was not one of his documented miracles. If different people who claim to see him are clearly not describing the same individual, this is a glaring inconsistency which contradicts the general claim that the same person is appearing to them all. The idea that Jesus is deliberately appearing to different people in different guises is an excuse for this inconsistency. The existence of an unsupported suggestion as to how the visions of Jesus might be both inconsistent and real is not evidence that they are real; it is at best an argument against utter disproof, which is a very, very long way from proof.

It would make the combined stories a lot more compelling in concert if the images of Jesus were separately verified as consistent AND did not fit the common media images. This would suggest that one person, independent of the cultural meme of Jesus, was reaching out to people. That still wouldn’t be proof, but it would be an interesting phenomenon which warranted further study. The reality is nothing like it.

On Purpose

Question from Niki:
Hi there again, I have been reading the abiogenesis part of the site and there came into my attention the question of MEANING OF LIFE, ITS PURPOSE, without god.

I am aware of the fact that the religious folks think that if this is all there is, material life and then death once and for all, for good, then there is no meaning of life. I knew you would disagree and so do I.

I have been thinking about this, for a long time, after I had read a book titled PLEASURE, I don’t remember the name of the author that says we are tubes that get born, eat and die, so why then live, and the author says because there is pleasure in life, with which I agree, as the meaning of life and apart from our instinct that keeps us not want to die, thou life can be unbearable for some, I came to my understanding of meaning of life without god and having only this one life, agreeing with the author.

I would compare our life once and for all, with an excursion you have won at lottery or any other way, to which you will go once and that’s it. Never again. So our life would be an excursion from nothingness to life and death would be the return from this pleasant excursion back to ordinary not so nice life or not at all.

So in my view our life is coming from nothing, living, and then going back to nothing, but i have no problem of ‘lack’ of meaning of life, not more than i would have in going to the nice excursion once in my lifetime.

So, according to the thinking of the religious folks that there is no purpose and meaning in life, if it is all there is, once for good and then death, then no one would go to this once in a life time dream excursion, because it will be only once and then never again. And you know it in advance.

Yet you go on such trips once in a lifetime because they are NICE.

And so is life. NICE.

But, what about life which is not nice?

Well, in that case there is HOPE that one day life will be nice. if even that proves wrong and unlikely, due to the insurmountable obstacles, as is ill health or invalidity of one’s body, or other, even worse circumstances of one’s life, then there is the INSTINCT OF SURVIVAL, that had evolved in all living beings over millions of years of existence.

If however one is so unhappy, suicide is not so uncommon and i don’t think it happens in only psychologically ill people. It happens when life is unbearable for whatever reason…

I have a comparison for that one too, the instinct of survival. it is actually the physical ‘want’ of a UNION to stay so. So, what is it that keeps it whole, what keeps all the cells or our organisms together. I am not talking about the ‘glue’ that there is in between of our cells, but about the psychological so to say glue, so, my answer may sound and it probably is, naive.

Something like the COHESION force. because death, with its consequence of the union of cells that once was a body of a living organism, being that now that there is no more of metabolism keeping it going and striving to STAY TOGETHER AND ALIVE, SOMETHING WE CALL SURVIVAL, the forces of ADHESION come about, helped by other organisms that dissolve the body by eating it or otherwise, but if there are no bacteria nor worms there, the body will dissolve anyway, but in much longer time, so, after a time the ex-union of cells that was once our body, is reduced to a heap of minerals in the casket, sometimes not even that, because the worms and germs have eaten us almost all, together with our organic matter and minerals. Only bones will remain because no living organism eats raw calcium that are our bones.

What do you think of this as the answer to the question of


If you have answered this in another discussion, please refer me to it. I tried to find an article titled meaning or purpose of life, but there is nothing. You don’t have a list of articles in alphabetic order here, nor grouped otherwise, I suppose you thought about it but found it inconvenient or time consuming and/or expensive, because you would need a programmer, or maybe not, I am not sure what they do.

Thanks !!!

Answer by SmartLX:
We talk about meaning and purpose in life all the time here. Just put the word ‘purpose’ into the top right search field and you’ll get seven pages of headings, like this.

The basic answer has two parts. Firstly, religious people don’t know the purpose of their lives either, even if they think there is one. Gods are not keen on sharing their plans, and believers may accept literally anything that happens as part of the plan. The second part is that atheists choose their own purpose in life, since they don’t expect there to be a divinely conferred purpose, known or unknown. If life loses all purpose and joy, suicide may occur, but this is true of everyone. Religiosity is negatively correlated with suicide rate in general, but this may be simply because major religions threaten eternal punishment for suicide, rather than giving additional hope to life.

The survival instinct is mostly mental, but elements of it are built into our entire nervous system as reflex actions. Your hand will snatch itself away from a hot stove before the sensation of heat or pain gets from your fingers to your brain. It’s easy to explain from an evolutionary perspective: a greater will to survive results in a greater survival rate in general, and is therefore passed down to more offspring. A species of animal uninterested in surviving or procreating wouldn’t last long, in any era.

Into My Baths, O Lourdes

Question from Jacob:
Hey, have you ever heard of Lourdes, probably? In any case, how do you explain the alleged scientifically proven miracles that happen there every year?

Answer by SmartLX:
Yes, I know of Lourdes and its magical healing spring water. It is just that, relatively pure potable water that comes through in the grotto in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, France.

Anywhere associated with the Virgin Mary (“Our Lady”, owing to claimed visions of her in Lourdes in 1858) is miracle country for Catholics, so sick Catholics come in their thousands to bathe in the grotto. Some get better, and credit their holy bath. Others don’t, and generally keep their mouths shut about it. None of the recoveries are scientifically attributable to the Lourdes experience, because the water has no discernible effect besides cleansing and hydration (not to mention the possible transmission of viruses and bacteria from the thousands of other sick people) but correlation is as good as causation when you want something to be true badly enough. Scientific proof of any miracles is definitely only alleged at this point.

Back from a Long Absence, But the Visions Keep Coming

Question from Graziano:
I am extremely curious, what is your view on these ‘spiritual communications’? A Hindu friend of mine sent me this clip for fun. I haven’t even watched it all, but it seems like this man in the video had this profound experience close to 30 years ago when he was in his late 20s. Something along the lines of him being an artist, then taking some gems to paint. When he was in a room alone with him, the gems turned to a crystal ball, he saw a lot of light, and these beings showed up. Some looked pretty, others somewhat demonic. Then, he saw this beautiful figure who was “take Marilyn Monroe and multiply it by 1000”. They had a detailed conversation, and he believes this figure was Krishna. I am wondering how an Italian American man like himself could have this kind of vivid and profound experience of a Hindu deity, having grown up in the West. He said he got revelations too and saw the whole universe. His title describes it as a Near Death Experience. While it has some features that other Near Death Experiences have, he was not near death when he had it, nor did he feel a sense of detachment from his body. I just don’t know what to make of it:

Answer by SmartLX:
Firstly, an apology: this is the longest I’ve ever left a question before answering it. I take full responsibility, but a long trip to New Zealand and a surge-devastated motherboard on my return sure didn’t help.

Anyway, you don’t have to make anything of this. It was a man alone in his room, and while he came out with great stories of what he’d seen there wasn’t anything verifiable in them. He’s not claiming divine foreknowledge of anything, or any information gleaned from remote or out-of-body viewing. It could have been dreams, hallucinations, the usual suspects. If the details of his “revelations” pique your interest, you can treat them as prophecies yet to be fulfilled.

It is indeed interesting that a non-Hindu American has stories of Hindu-themed visions, but while Hinduism was not a common religion in 1980s America, it was not entirely absent from the public consciousness. The Beatles, the Beach Boys and others had drawn a great deal of attention to Hinduism through their association with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 60s and 70s. And if there are any Hare Krishnas in your city, they’re hard to miss.

Grandma Sees Dead People

Question from Deco:
Ok, so I don’t know if this is really an “ability”, but my grandmother prides herself on having this sort of ESP where she can apparently detect the death of a person while it is taking place. I was skeptical of it, and I asked her a bit about it. She told me that at least 50 times in her life, she has had this sensation or feeling when someone dies. It has come to her in the form of dreams where she will have a dream about a person and being with them in heaven or some form of afterlife, and then she will wake up, and find out at the time of her dream that the person really did die. She has also had what I assume are hypnogogic hallucinations where she will see a person’s face in what she assumes is in the form of a ghost, and then see the devil’s face, and then later find out the person died. One of the weirdest examples is the time that her cousin died. She had a dream of him coming to her and saying that he had drowned. The next day, she found out that he did in fact drown. She has had these dreams with religious imagery, e.g. sometimes she claims Jesus tells her these messages, sometimes it’s family, seeing devils, angels, etc.

I guess my question is, put aside the fact that these claims sound too good to be true, let’s say if she could prove it, would that constitute proof of souls of the passed on communicating with her? Or, could there be another explanation for it that doesn’t require a supernatural component? Perhaps our brains have a method of picking this stuff up that we are not aware of, and her brain interprets the info in a certain way which causes her to dream with a religious background? Or could it be a combination of an active mind, (constantly thinking of people close to her and worrying about them) so sometimes when she has these sensations they are true? Maybe with this she counts the hits, ignores the misses?

Being an Orthodox Christian, I would like nothing more than for this to be true, but I am asking for an atheist perspective here, which is why I am posting it to an atheist community. I have asked many Orthodox Christians and received their opinions, now I want yours. My grandfather says that he has also seen my grandmother get these hits a lot, and he is very surprised by it, but he himself says he doesn’t think it points to the supernatural, even though he admits he cannot explain it. I guess I’m just curious. I don’t want you guys to just dismiss it as “lying” or “fake”, I mean, you can think it is a lie or fake, but I am asking kind of for fun, let’s just assume for a second that this ability were as true as I am claiming, what would you say? Would you then suddenly believe in afterlife and a spiritual realm, or would you still say “I don’t know, but I can’t conclude it is really anything supernatural”?

Answer by SmartLX:
My first question would be, on any of these 50+ occasions, did your grandmother tell anyone else (e.g. your grandfather) that she’d had one of these experiences before checking to confirm? Ideally, did she name the person or give a description before receiving any information from the outside world? (Someone’s always dying somewhere.) This is what would show that she wasn’t just claiming these after the fact.

That’s the all-important skepticism out of the way, and you’ve done a good job of this too by bringing up two possible sources of confirmation bias. So, let’s play with your enormous “if”. If she really were being informed through visions alone of the deaths of particular people, I’d be satisfied that something supernatural was going on, because visions can’t do that via natural means except by pure coincidence. They don’t convey information from outside the person’s senses, they can only work with what the senses are receiving and whatever the brain conjures up for itself, from memory and imagination.

The question would be by what specific supernatural means she was getting it (assuming someone wasn’t in her bedroom subconsciously feeding her the info). Interaction with the souls of the dying/dead would be one possibility, but not the only one. Someone living could be using conscious or unconscious telepathy to send her images of the newly dead. She could be psychic herself, and able to see the faces of those about to die, slightly before or after the time of death, but without help from their souls.

One specific point against the soul hypothesis is that the visions apparently aren’t consistent in their depiction of the afterlife. They could all be different aspects of the same afterlife system, or they could just be contradictory flights of fancy accompanying the real information regarding the identity or appearance of the deceased.

You’ve realised for yourself the difficulty a religious person would face when discussing even a confirmed supernatural effect: actually claiming credit for it on behalf of the “right” supernatural entities from your model of the spiritual world, as opposed to the countless others people believe in, plus the ones no one has thought of yet. Atheists would be challenged if something like this were proved beyond doubt, but in most cases the first thing to go would not be their atheism but rather their materialism. But then, there are already plenty of non-materialist atheists who do believe in ghosts, souls, psychics and so on, because they have a spiritual model in mind that does not include any gods. I’m not one of them, but they’ve written in before.